The danger in giving the University of Pittsburgh's production of A Toothache & A Plague & A Dog a rave review, which I'm about to do, is that it might encourage others to think they can pull off something similar. But you can't, so don't even try. Because Melanie Dreyer beat you to it, and she's better than you ever could be.
This should have been a show I hated: masks, puppets, marionettes, slide projections ... the only thing missing was a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber. But Dreyer's use of these elements is essential to the story being told. Moreover, it's always employed to propel the journey and, as a bonus, to hugely entertain the audience.
As suggested by the title, Toothache, written in 1957 by Argentina's Osvaldo Dragún, is really three separate shorter plays; all have a decided left-wing, bleeding-heart-liberal bent, and each is a sort of modern parable, with the message being "do unto others."
Stefano Muneroni has crafted a breezy and bright translation that, amazingly, can contain Dragún's stories, Dreyer's own vision and the tsunami-like energy and improvisational input of this student company.
I can't remember the last time I had so much fun at a show. The humor is goofy and angry, subtle and surreal, all presented in a style I can only describe as structured anarchy. Dreyer has given this polished, enthusiastic cast an enormous amount of freedom to play, but all in the service of telling Dragún's stories. The only downside is that since everyone wears masks I'm not sure who was playing what, so lemme just say I'm sending every one of them a box of chocolates.
Tavia LaFollette's costumes and, especially, her puppets add an eye-popping visual appeal, as does Johnmichael Bohach's setting and Annmarie Duggan's lights ... and everybody gets a hand for the treasure trove of hilarious and brutally clever props.
A great night all the way around.
A Toothache & A Plague & A Dog continues through Sun., Nov. 19. Studio Theatre (basement, Cathedral of Learning), Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-624-PLAY.